a song for the long run

by tobias crabtree

In grade school we had this day, once a year, called field day. It was the day that each child competed in several different physical events against other children in the same grade. There were a bunch of different events including a softball distance throw, long jump, standing long jump and, of course, running different distances. There were ribbons given to the first, second and third place winners, kinda like the olympics. I’ve heard that these days they give out ribbons to all participants, which makes me wonder about why they even have competitions. But anyway, I never won a first place ribbon, maybe a third now and then, but I sure did like that day. For one thing, any day where I didn’t have to sit in school was wonderful to me, also, I liked to run.

That all happened years ago, more than I like to add up. Lots of things have changed since then. Nowadays competition is scrutinized and people sue for burnt meals and coffee that’s too hot, there are cameras on street poles and flu shots at Walgreen, there are little televisions in every pocket and not-so-coincidentally, zombie movies are all the rage. There is a zombie-esque feel to people these days. As planes hurtle across the sky making criss-cross patterns above land that takes weeks to walk into, I wonder about our future. And by “our”, I mean us human critters. These days I have heavy thoughts about the way we tax our pretty blue world. Water runs down the gutters of the golf courses in the desert. Pills get flushed down the toilets. Roads are widened and widened again. There is chaos running amuck in the minds of people who sit in millions of hours traffic. Can you imagine the combined amount of hate and fury that is emanating from each and every traffic jam on each highway in every city around the world? It can’t be good. I think first, second and third place ribbons are the least of our worries.

I don’t like thinking about all these things. I feel a little guilty writing about them because they’re so heavy and I don’t have the answers. I feel like the guy who is alone on an asteroid and comes across a broken space ship; I know there’s a way to fix it and fly it, but I’m too simple to do so. Instead, I just sit in the cockpit and imagine flying back to my world with the oceans and whales and redwoods and ferns and blueberries and high country streams and heavy whipping cream and coffee.

Whenever this all gets too big, too much, I have a way that I fix it. It might seem silly to you but it works, at least most of the time it works. I run. That’s it, I just run. Like the little Tobias kid that ran after them first place ribbons, I run. And I ain’t training anymore for anything. No races. No tryouts. No finish lines. I run to allow my heart the freedom it gets from pounding. These hearts, our hearts, were born to pound. So, not unlike the wolves and the antelope, I run across the land. I even close my eyes for a few steps sometimes and picture my silhouette against the sky and the earth turning under me, and I picture the terrain changing from deserts to mountains to long, beautiful beaches. I breathe in the air that is here, however good or bad it is, and I don’t pass judgement because, well, because I’m running. And I think of the Masai running with their beautiful smiles. I think of the Tarahumara running under wild, Mexican skies. I see early man as he dreams over distances and into his future, which is now my past. We are running and we are wild. Wolves run. Coyotes and cheetahs run. Gazelles and rabbits run. There aren’t ribbons here, there is sky and ground and beating heart, burning legs and clacking teeth. And as we run the world turns in space and I can see a white-hot trail left behind, a single thread against the black, and that thread runs through everything that ever was. It cuts through the red-rimmed eyes of the thin man digging in the dumpster for his meal. It creases the brow of the one-who-has-everything as he weeps over his ocean of emptiness. It meanders through the guts of the prison guard who walks long hallways of cages holding his kind. It is a thread that hems us all together, like it or not, on a planet that carries us but is not owned by us and will not ever be owned, no matter how much money changes hands. It is life. We each carry it for a bit, and then we give it back. I guess that’s why I feel it when I am running, because I feel my heart and I know that someday, my faithful little machine will divvy out it’s last thump, and I will cease to be.

We all get our kicks through something. I know that some folks can’t run and some folks don’t want to, but that’s not the point here. A thought or two about our place in the midst of it all wouldn’t hurt. We are all beating hearts, which gives us something in common. That thought alone could begin to fix some of the things that seem unfixable. Put your hand on your chest and feel…see, it’s there, clunking away. Ain’t that pretty?